When the ancient Romans went on their conquering sprees about the Continent, they managed to make it as far as England and Wales, but decided to give Ireland a miss. The name they gave that westernmost island says it all: Hibernia, land of cold winters. Since then, most visitors have decided to follow the Roman example and give Ireland the cold shoulder come September — and just like the Romans, they’ll never know the treasures they were missing.
Despite what the warm-blooded Romans probably thought, winter in Ireland is surprisingly mild, thanks to the nearby Gulf Stream, which keeps temperatures at a comfortable 7 C even during the January. Some years, snow will add a decorative touch to the landscape, but almost never enough to make traveling a hassle. Warm, layered clothing is all you’ll need.
The famous Irish rains are at their heaviest during the winter, particularly in the West, so be prepared with good rain gear. Having said that, don’t let it bother you much; you can come in August and still be deluged. Thanks to the rains though, there is at least one pleasant surprise for the visitor, for despite the nude trees, the grass stays startlingly green even in deep winter, proof positive you’re on the Emerald Isle.
Some Places To Go in Ireland
To really enjoy a stay in Ireland in winter, pick your spots carefully. You’ll never go wrong if you stay in cozy Dublin, which is just large enough to feel cosmopolitan, but still small enough to be unmistakably Irish. The museums are always open, the students from the universities keep a dense offering of clubs, theatres and other entertainments well supplied with bodies and talent and if all else fails to delight, there’s plenty of pubs serving decent grub, better beer and that all-time favourite indoor Irish sport: having a good craic! If you don’t know what that means, ask a fellow in a pub and be prepared to have it explained at length.
To really get to the soul of Ireland however — or as much as you can without intimate friendships with the locals — you have to get out of the cities and into the country. There are those who say that a landscape shapes its people and their history; and very few people seem to embody that idea more than the Irish and their verdant, melancholy countryside.
On a quest for soul-searching, you can wander around the endless heath lands of Donegal, or explore the idyllic farm landscapes of Kilkenny, or even the wild Burren country of Clare. If you have a penchant for Irish history, a ramble around the countryside can be the perfect way to explore it. Scattered about the landscape in the oddest nooks and crannies are timeless reminder of their history: ruined castles hidden in a stand of trees, Celtic crosses worn almost smooth by wind and rain, holy wells where even today people carefully lay down flowers and offerings…
If you’re just there for the view however, head for the West, where you’ll see the sights which have made Ireland a byword for breathtaking landscapes the world over. Freed of the coach buses of summer, you can drive up and down the Dingle Peninsula, explore the back lanes of Connemara and dare yourself to stand on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher without ever having to share ‘your’ views with other visitors.
Some Things To Do in Ireland
When you’ve quenched your appetite for scenery, warm yourself in the charmingly old-world villages. Ireland’s unique heritage is at its strongest here in the West, where Rome’s homogenizing influence never had a chance to dilute or erase the native culture. Here, Irish is still spoken as a first language and the customs and traditions often date back to and before the ancient Celts, now modified of course by the later Christian beliefs, but still holding more than a smidgeon of mysticism and superstition.
There’s no better place to meet the people who bring this heritage to life than to visit one of the famous pubs of Ireland. You’ve probably heard all that jazz about how pubs in Ireland are the heart and soul of the community, and this is the best time to find out why. In the middle of winter, with no tourists to crowd against, nothing much to do and plenty of time to do it in, you’ll find the
sort if Irish scenes which postcards are made of. If you want good conversation, you’ll get it. If you want traditional Irish music, you’ll get it. If you want good Irish meals, you’ll get it — three times a day, and big heaping helpings too.
If you prefer to be around even more people, there’s no lack of opportunities even in winter in the country. On St Stephen’s Day, you can join the locals who crowd into their favourite pubs to celebrate the occasion, or if you’re a fan of horse-racing (one of Ireland’s most popular sports) you can make a dash for the Leopardstown Christmas Racing Festival, when the heady pleasures of the race add a certain extra zing to the town’s Christmas festivities. In the West, drop by Cork City at year’s end, when the city celebrates its stint as Capital of Culture with lightshows, fireworks, some rather impressive underwater pyrotechnics and other entertainments.
There are plenty of other entertainments to be found, certainly too many to list in an article like this. Just let it be said that if a winter holiday is what you need, don’t follow the Romans and turn back before Ireland; to the brave man (or woman) willing to go the extra distance, the pleasures of the Emerald Isle awaits.